Diagnosing ADD or ADHD in Teenage Girls

When teenage girls have ADHD, it can more difficult to spot the signs than it is to notice symptoms in boys. While boys with ADHD tend to have a lot of noticeable behavior problems, girls with ADHD have trouble focusing and completing tasks. Since these symptoms are harder to detect than outward behavior problems, ADHD can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for the following reasons:

  • Girls often fall into the harder to diagnose category of “primarily inattentive type”
  • Girls work typically work harder to hide academic difficulties and conform to teacher expectations
  • Girls are often misdiagnosed as anxious and/or depressed
  • Girls who are especially intelligent can mask their ADHD for much longer

Challenges for Teenage Girls with ADHD

The following challenges can also happen for girls without ADHD, but these issues are more intense and more frequent among girls who experience an attention disorder.

  • Social pressures

    Girls who have ADHD can experience social deficits as early as preschool, but the most difficult time typically happens during adolescence. During this stage of life, girls separate from family and their social life takes on greater meaning. Many women with ADHD recall feeling “different” from other girls as they grew up. Their need for peer acceptance during high school is intense and may lead to dangerous or self-destructive behavior in an effort to belong.

  • Low self-esteem

    Family support and acceptance are important, but it can’t counteract the damage that is done when teenagers are rejected by their peer group. Girls with ADHD may develop low self-esteem in high school that will last into adult life.

  • Inability to meet social and academic expectations

    Teenage years are naturally full of self-doubts, but the special challenges of ADHD can greatly intensify those feelings. Girls are stereotypically encouraged to be neat, feminine, passive, controlled, carefully groomed, sensitive to others’ feelings and compliant with adults. These expectations are often completely contradictory of the ADHD tendencies many girls have. A teenage girl with ADHD might respond anxiously and even obsessively to the expectation that she be well groomed and tidy, while also being unable to organize her room or her life to meet those expectations. High school is also the time of life where grades and academic performance starts to matter. As ADHD can make it extremely difficult to focus in school and perform sufficiently, your daughter might be overwhelmingly worried about never making it to college.

  • Depression

    Since social pressure is so intense during adolescence, it can cause girls with ADHD to feel despair when they don’t fit in. Depression often begins during the high-stress teen years and can last into adulthood when untreated. However, depression is easier to recognize and many girls will be treated for depression before they are ever diagnosed with ADHD.

  • Sexual risks

    Teenage girls with ADHD may be at a greater risk for pregnancy than other girls. Girls who struggle with low self-esteem, including those with ADHD, often seek affirmation through the sexual attention of boys to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. Difficulties with impulse control, poor planning ability and inconsistency all make these girls prone to having unprotected sex and/or having multiple partners.

How Can You Help?

If you think your daughter has ADHD, find a doctor who is experienced in diagnosing it. Talk to your child’s pediatrician first if you need direction on where to go next. At the CERTS Group, we can help your daughter cope with the effects of ADHD, depression and anxiety through residential treatment programs. Our programs have a structure based upon Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) while combining traditional talk therapy with experiential therapies (equine assisted psychotherapy, art therapy, adventure therapy, music therapy, etc.) to achieve a resilient, more influential change. Contact us to learn more.